Recovering from sudden disaster

Not every storm has a name, like Harvey, Irma, or Maria.

Mine arrived without radar predictions or an evacuation warning.

An urgent voice on the other end of the phone said, “your house is on fire—you’d better get over here, NOW!”

Ash Gateway fire June 2006 police 290A few minutes later I found myself standing across the street from my home, watching helplessly as voracious flames consumed the roof.

The firefighters valiantly fought the blaze, preventing it from completely destroying the structure.  But what remained was damaged severely by heat, smoke and water.Ash Gateway fire June 2006 police 338

For the first time in my life, I was confronted with sudden disaster, devastation, and displacement.

There’s been a lot of that going around lately.  Perhaps like me, you’ve felt heart-sick over the string of calamities the past few weeks . . . hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes.

How do we recover when a major storm sweeps through our lives?

Continue reading “Recovering from sudden disaster”

Staying afloat during a tidal wave of transition

A couple of months ago I shared the post, “When life changes – but you don’t want to.”

In it I described how a treasured boss would be retiring, and shared a few tips for coping with impending change.

th[2]This month the tsunami of transition came crashing down with full force.

Perhaps I was naïve to think I might have a few days (or even weeks) of calm after my boss’s last day to grieve and re-group before my world turned upside down.

That first morning, I quietly entered his bare office and was overcome with emotion.  The pain felt very much like when I visited  my father’s vacant home after he died.

I wasn’t alone in my struggles.  There was a subdued mood across campus, and a teary-eyed co-worker said it felt like the “heart” had gone out of the building.

Yet at 10:30 a.m. that morning, before we even had a chance to dry our eyes, we received the announcement.  Our new college president had been appointed and would begin in six weeks.

Instantly, the mantra became “moving forward.”

The world as I knew it shifted, and the flood waters of change rapidly rose around my ankles.

Continue reading “Staying afloat during a tidal wave of transition”

When life changes – but you don’t want to

If we are fortunate, every so often we find a sweet spot in life . . . a time when our relationships and circumstances seem just right.  We are thriving and feel safe and happy.   And then something outside of our control happens.  Life changes—even though we don’t want it to.

thhg5zd0z4The first time I experienced it, I was only eight.  My dad was starting a new career, and we had to relocate half-way across the country. I remember the anxiety and sadness I felt over having to leave the only home I had ever known.

Similar feelings resurfaced as my high school days came to a close.  I dreaded the transition that would scatter my close friends and propel me into the unknown. Yet the hands of time dictated that a season in my life was over. 

As an adult, the pattern has repeated itself several times when circumstances beyond my control changed my world.  Sometimes it happened suddenly, like the day my house went up in flames. Other times it was a longer-term process, such as experiencing the stages of eldercare.

And now, I feel it happening again. Continue reading “When life changes – but you don’t want to”

One-year reflections of a grieving daughter

Last Thanksgiving, instead of gathering with loved ones to enjoy a feast, I huddled alone in front of my laptop, tears streaming down my face.  My father had died just two days earlier, and I spent the holiday planning his funeral.

While I felt the intense void of dad’s absence this Thanksgiving, I also experienced gratitude for the progress I’ve made in my grief-journey.

Here are eleven things I learned about grieving during this past year:

1. Grieving can begin while a loved one is still alive. I began feeling the deep ache of losing my father long before he died.  This is called “anticipatory grief.”   Some end-of-life journeys are very long good-byes.  As our loved one declines, we not only grieve incremental losses of  physical and mental abilities, we begin to pre-grieve losing him or her completely.

1205151138a-2

2.  Everyone expresses grief differently. I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral, even when I gave a tribute.  What people never saw were the countless times I privately wept from the depths of my soul.  It’s important to remember that outward appearances may not tell the whole story.  A person who looks like they “have it all together” may be falling apart on the inside.  On the flip side, individuals who freely let their emotions show may not be as fragile as they appear.

3.  Grief doesn’t follow a timeline. The “five stages of grief,” (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) [1] are interpreted by some to mean that once we check off the final box, we are done mourning.  In reality, grieving does not follow a predictable path, nor is it something we “finish.” Major loss changes us forever—and it should.  To put pressure on ourselves or others to “just get over it and move on” is both unkind and unrealistic.

4.  Grief hinders life functioning. I became frustrated during my first few weeks back at work because I made many more errors than usual.  Later I was reminded that a grieving person’s body, brain, and emotions are in a compromised state, making it harder to focus and think critically.  In fact, several grief recovery resources state that it’s wise to avoid making any major life decisions for at least six months following a significant loss. [2]

5.  It gets easier. Really, it does.  Recently I’ve been following the grief-journey of a man who lost his wife to cancer.  His sorrow is so profound that he cannot fathom ever feeling better.  I used to feel the same way.  But one day, at about the 3-month mark, I noticed I could sometimes make it through the day without crying.  My grief “symptoms” gradually lessened from that point on. While everyone progresses at a different rate, it does get easier. Continue reading “One-year reflections of a grieving daughter”

God is Good . . . some of the time?

sacred-datura-flower-from-anza-borrego-desert-725x544[1]

I stood wearily outside the mortuary, listening to the elderly woman share about her husband’s recent passing.

“We were on our way to visit family. He just got into the car, closed his eyes and he was gone!” She went on to describe how it was such a blessing that he went so fast and painlessly, exclaiming, “God is so good!”

My father had passed away just two days before her husband, and his death was long and drawn-out. All I could say in return was, “it didn’t work out that way for my dad.”

Since that encounter, I’ve been more aware of when people use the phrase, “God is good.” And I’ve noticed that they typically say it when something positive has happened.

God answered a prayer the way they wanted it.

God healed someone.

God provided something they needed.

God made something easier.

Which begs the question: Is God only good when life is good? In other words, is God only good – some of the time? Continue reading “God is Good . . . some of the time?”